The best careers you've never heard of
Thinking through your job options and want some inspiration? Here's our pick of the best off-the-beaten-path career choices.
When researching careers, it's natural to feel more comfortable with jobs that sound familiar and tangible (such as 'lawyer', 'journalist' and 'teacher') than ones that don't (like 'consultant' and 'actuary').
But if you don't chase up some unfamiliar choices, you might be missing out on exciting career options.
We've compiled a selection of ten great careers that most people have either never heard of or don't know what they actually entail, so you can easily expand your career-searching horizons.
Something scientific: toxicologist – study poisons and potential poisons
Toxicologists identify and study the effects of toxic materials, chemicals, radiation and potential new medicines on the human body. There are plenty of different areas toxicologists can work in, some of which are more lab-based, some more research-based and some more industrial. For instance, toxicologists in the NHS diagnose people who have been poisoned, study the effects of harmful or potentially-harmful agents on the body and suggest methods of treatment. They might advise on the treatment of people who have overdosed on drugs, or who have been exposed to lead in their water supply.
You'll need a science degree to become a toxicologist, with a decent level of biological and chemical understanding, though you don't need a medical degree: biology, chemistry, forensic sciences, medical sciences, physical sciences, pharmacy and environmental sciences can all lead into toxicology. There are also postgraduate qualifications available specifically in toxicology.
Find out more about a career as a toxicologist.
Something creative: SFX makeup artist – turn men into monsters
Could you turn Ralph Fiennes into Voldemort? Special effects makeup artists focus on the theatrical, the comic, the otherworldly. They'll range from making actors look older than they are, or sicker, to creating prosthetics and models for ambitious body projects. Most SFX makeup artists take a relevant course in theatrical/media makeup, then build their skills through volunteering and industry work – often doing less outlandish makeup work (such as bridal makeup) to pay the bills. SFX makeup artists can command a high price for working on set, but usually have to work contract to contract.
Something satisfying: UX designer – fix annoying platforms
Ever been annoyed at a difficult-to-use website or a badly designed app? The job of a UX designer (short for 'User Experience' designer) is to make platforms, websites and apps easier and more pleasant to use, requiring a combination of art skills, computer skills and a dash of psychology knowledge (so you can understand what customers want from their applications). You'll need to be able to draw and use design software.
Engineering, computing, design and media backgrounds are all useful, and there are specialist masters degrees available in UX design (or similar). Experience and familiarity with relevant software will significantly help your chances of getting work.
Find out more about a career as a UX designer.
Something exciting: fire investigator – find out what (or who) started the fire
Firefighters fight fires; fire investigators track down why they started in the first place by examining the building, the pattern of fire activity and the remaining structures and appliances. Fire investigators usually start out as paid or volunteer firefighters, then complete a fire investigator training programme (there are several different kinds of course available, including short courses and an MSc)..
Something technical: ethical hacker – outwit the bad guys
Ethical hackers use hacking techniques to improve the security of websites: they will try to hack into a company's website (with that company's permission) and then inform the company about weaknesses in its security. Then, the company can use that information to prevent future cyberattacks. The job is also advertised as 'penetration tester', 'information security consultant' or 'network security specialist'.
You've got to have a good knowledge base to be an ethical hacker: you can take a Certified Ethical Hacker course, and a masters degree in information security may be useful, but the job rests on excellent knowledge of IT systems and software and constant practical experience with computers. A degree in computer science and/or extensive self-taught computer knowledge will serve you well.
As well as being an exciting and important job, ethical hackers are in high demand and are compensated well: you could earn a salary of £60,000.
Something varied: oceanographer – move between the lab and the sea
Oceanographers study the oceans, unsurprisingly, but that can entail anything from programming ocean simulations on a computer to analysing pollutants in seawater. Whether you're on the more academic side of things or the more industrial side of things, you're likely to be moving between a lab and the sea itself: going out yourself on a boat and using diving equipment is an integral part of most oceanography jobs. There may even be the occasional research cruise, although most of the time you'll be working with a much smaller boat.
Most oceanographers have a postgraduate qualification in oceanography after a STEM undergraduate degree. Physics, computer sciences, mathematics and biology are all useful degrees for various forms of oceanography.
Find out more about a career as an oceanographer.
Something plugged-in: political analyst – research trends
Political analysts are researchers and writers: they research and analyse political trends and systems, collect and analyse data, interpret findings and produce articles and reports predicting how political trends are going to change over time. This job may be ideal for you if you have a degree background in politics, journalism or similar, and you enjoy undertaking research while remaining plugged into the world around you. You could earn between £25,000 and £32,000 Salaries are higher on average if you move to work in the US.
Something helpful: art therapist – healing through art
Art therapists aim to help patients to overcome emotional, mental and behavioural difficulties by expressing themselves through art. The therapy aims to channel patients' energies into painting, sculpture and other forms of expression and help them to understand and address their inner conflicts.
To become an art therapist, you need a two-year postgraduate diploma in art therapy or psychotherapy recognised by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Your first degree should ideally be art-based, but those with healthcare, teaching and social work degrees may also be accepted onto the programme. NHS art therapists start on roughly £31,300 a year and experienced art therapists can make £40,000-50,000.
Work experience can be difficult to get due to the sensitive nature of the work, so finding shadowing placements and experience where possible is crucial.
Find out more about a career as an art therapist.
Something unusual: glass blowing – shape beautiful creations
Glass blowers design, create and finish creations made of glass, taking them from conception to completion. They'll work on everything from speciality artistic pieces to more functional pieces (mirrors, windows, laboratory equipment). Glass blowers melt glass in a furnace, blow it into shape using a blowing iron, solder, repair and decorate pieces and keep up with the industry through conferences, research and live demonstrations. It's a job that's both very artistic and very manual.
Being a glass blower often means working freelance, so salary varies depending on contacts and experience. To get into the industry, there are relevant postgraduate degrees, NVQs and other courses available, but you can also train on the job in a glass factory. The National Glass Centre in Sunderland is a useful hub to visit if you're thinking of working in glass: it has no entry fee and features lots of glass exhibitions.
Something lifesaving: explosive ordnance disposal expert – defuse bombs
Explosive ordnance disposal experts, or EODs, work to identify, find and defuse/destroy bombs or other dangerous explosive devices. These may include improvised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines and other unexploded military bombs (such as shells and grenades). EODs also help to make sure civilians in the area have been evacuated and use bomb-disposal machines and robots to disable devices remotely. They may have other duties as well, such as working with ammunition storages to make sure that explosive devices are stored safely.
EODs usually train via the Army, the Navy or the RAF. Army EODs will initially train as a soldier or officer, then specialise as an EOD; Navy EODs may work as mine warfare specialists (controlling machines into the water to disable mines) or mine clearance divers (diving to disable mines yourself); RAF members can begin as weapons technicians, then volunteer for bomb disposal training. Once trained, you might work in a war zone or in a civilian setting.
Alternatively, you could work as an EOD for the HALO trust, a non-political and non-religious charity which focuses on removing debris left behind by war, particularly landmines in highly affected countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia and Angola.
The job is high-pressure but impactful and important, and it's paid well: mine clearance divers earn more than £51,000 as their career develops.
See anything you like?
If you haven't spotted anything that takes your fancy here, there are plenty of other strangely-named jobs that can lead to fulfilling careers, from social engineers (who try to trick employees into giving out sensitive information so that they can advise on security measures for staff, somewhat like ethical hackers) to food scientists (who develop good-tasting and safe foods, as well as helping our food industry adapt to an increasing population and increasing sustainability demands).
So, don't be scared off by strange and unfamiliar job titles – if you read the description, you might find yourself drawn to a new career path.